Friday, December 20, 2013

The Fifth Day of Christmas by Lesley-Anne McLeod ©2010

I wrote this story in 2010, shortly after my mother--who loved Christmas--passed away. I offer it to you now, as my Christmas gift to you. If you have read it before, on my website, I hope you will enjoy it again. Happy Christmas!
Illustration of "five gold rings", from the first known publication of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (1780)
                                   The Fifth Day of Christmas

"Miss? Master Anselm is calling for you, and his lordship begs to advise that his throat is showing signs of irritation."

Philippa Mosedale blinked slowly, feeling tears prickle under her lids. She stared at the quill in her hand, clenching it tightly on the desk before her. It was four of the clock on the eve of Christmas and her father's announcement was the final straw. Christmas would not happen this year, no matter how many efforts she made. Her sixteen year old sister and fourteen year old twin brothers had all succumbed to feverish colds the previous day and now Papa…

It was not at all how she had planned to spend her Christmastide. She had never expected to be in London for the holiday. Her perfect Yule celebration was to have been held at Leaholm as usual, replete with the traditions and customs that she treasured and that her family had come to expect every year.

Yet here they were, detained in London. Papa's Parliamentary business had kept them in the metropolis well into December, and then a snowstorm had made the roads impassable. There had been a possibility of traveling into Kent when a frost followed the snow's thaw, but then the first sniffles had plagued her siblings.

Last week Philippa had decorated Leaholm House in Grosvenor-square with holly and ivy, just to simulate the Christmas preparations at Leaholm. She had even crafted a mistletoe bough, though it made her think of Everett. When it had become apparent that they would celebrate the holiday in London, she had planned with Cook all manner of Christmas delicacies.

She closed her eyes, and threw down the quill. She had been making lists of her beloved traditions, but none of them now would be enacted.

"Are you well, miss?"

Phillipa opened her eyes, summoning calm and composure. Her family needed her. Her maid was regarding her anxiously.

"Oh, yes. You know I am never ill, Coxwold." That at least was true; she did not fear succumbing herself. "Is there any sickness in the servants' hall?"

"The footman is coughing, miss. And the kitchenmaid is taking honey for her throat. Cook is only vexed and wondering about dinner. Baxter says he will not yield to illness; it is his duty to be well."

This declaration by her family's long-time butler caused Philippa to smile. "I must remember to thank him for his dedication. Very well, Coxwold, ask Cook to cancel the special Christmas Eve meal we had planned. She is to use the beef for broth and prepare all manner of light nourishing dishes. She will know better than I." Philippa rose and straightened the lace cuffs of her favourite merino gown. "I will go to Anselm. I expect it will be a long night, but not one of celebration. Perhaps not unlike that first Christmas eve of labour." She smiled wryly at her stout maid. "Well at least Master Hillary is to go direct from Oxford to Aunt Stonecliff's. He will have a fine time there."


It was, as Philippa had predicted, a long night. She was kept busy carrying pitchers of barley-water, soothing fevered brows, and adjusting tumbled bedclothes. She managed to snatch only odd hours of sleep at the bedsides of her siblings. On making her self-prescribed rounds of her afflicted family at six o'clock in the morning of Christmas Day she pulled aside one of the heavy brocade landing curtains and noted that it was snowing yet again. The square outside was obscured by the pearly swirl of flakes. There was no one abroad but a footman or two, and a coach, briefly leaving stark tracks in the gathering snow.

In the library at mid-morning she paused to reflect that, had they been at home, they would have been lighting the Yule log. She sighed. Tradition and order were very important to her; indeed, they were the framework of her life. But illness paid no heed to such considerations. Illness required spontaneity and improvisation, two characteristics Everett had possessed in abundance.

She pushed the recollection aside and searched out the Latin treatise that her father had requested. Then she found the book on angling that Ambrose had desired, and a book of views of Italy for Sukey to peruse. On the walnut library table lay the book she had two days before consulted about Yule customs and lore. She paused, and then closed it. The first Christmas day had had nothing of tradition about it; it had been overflowing with joy and the love of family. Nodding her head on the thought, she lifted the stack of books and resumed her duties.

At one o'clock she closed the door to her father's bedchamber where she had left a fresh pitcher of barley-water. He was not so very ill, but was uncomfortable enough to wish for solitude.

Coxwold was waiting for her. "Cook has a nuncheon for you, Miss Philippa. In point of fact it was delivered to the door."

Philippa was astonished. Their acquaintance, she had thought, was all gone from town. "Delivered? By whom?"

"By an ordinary person, who left no identification, according to Cook. A gift, he said only, from a friend. It was contained in a basket. The contents are laid out in the dining room."

Repairing to the chinoiserie splendour of Leaholm House's dining chamber, Philippa sat down to a beautifully presented dish of roasted partridge and a compote of poached pears. "Great heavens, a Christmas feast after all. How very kind of someone. No card, no message at all, Baxter?"

The elderly butler hovered at her elbow. "No, miss. I wondered if I should even present it to you, but it seemed unexceptionable."

"It certainly looks acceptable. What an odd occurrence."

"Indeed, miss. Oh, I must beg leave to advise that I have sent the footman to his bed--very unpleasant he is, miss, with a catarrh."

Philippa sighed. "Of course, you did right." She applied herself to the partridge and wondered who was her benefactor.


On Boxing Day, Ambrose, who had been the first to fall ill, was recovered enough to sit, well-wrapped, by the fire in the library. Philippa was engaged with him in a desultory game of backgammon. The lamps were lit against the dull day without. After a brief rap on the door Baxter and a tradesman in a frieze apron carried in by a heavily swathed parcel.

"Great heavens!" Philippa's mouth dropped open with astonishment. "No Ambrose you may not discard that shawl," she directed her brother when he made to rise. "Whatever this is, it may be set on the table beside you."

The tradesman and Baxter placed their burden carefully on the indicated support.

"Is there a card, Baxter? You, sir, where are you from?"

"No card, no note at all, miss. And he's just a carter," the butler said. Baxter withdrew, drawing the offended workman with him.

Philippa, a frown furrowing her brow at her butler's slighting comment, said, "See he has a Christmas box!" She hoped the staff knew that their own Christmas boxes would be forthcoming, as soon as illness loosened its grip on the household. It was a tradition she would not ignore.

With a sigh, she set aside her concerns and began unwrapping the parcel. Her brother offered verbal commentary and sporadic assistance.

Removal of the last binding revealed a gilt cage containing two small white doves. Philippa and her brother stared at the birds for a long silent moment. A burbling coo broke their reverie.

"There is a book somewhere here on caged birds--I remember seeing it once," Ambrose said, getting up without his sister's permission. He began to search his father's well-ordered shelves. 

Philippa was too surprised by the gift to censure his activity. A late Christmas offering, she supposed, but why and from whom? And doves? To what purpose…

She was still puzzling over the matter when Coxwold brushed her hair that evening at bedtime. Then it occurred to her to ask "Was the post collected today?"

"Baxter himself went, Miss Philippa, given the footman's still coughing his lungs out. But there was none."

"None at all? Nothing from Master Hillary, or Lord Markenfield?"

"Nothing, miss."

Philippa dismissed her maid with thanks and climbed into her bed. Nothing from Everett; he had taken her last rejection seriously then. She almost wished…but no, she had been right to refuse him. There had been that rush of emotion, that overwhelming sense of rightness between them, but there had been no commonality of purpose, no meeting of minds on important matters. Her sense of history, her devotion to tradition had been derided by his love of progress and invention. She had scorned his progressive notions and he had mocked her traditional ones. But she did think he might have wished her the compliments of the season, despite their differences. In the flurry of illness, of course, she had neglected to do the same for him.


On the third day of Christmas her siblings all were well enough to join her for a dinner at four o'clock. It seemed wise to keep country hours for her pale, coughing sister and brothers. At the last moment their father also joined them.

She had ordered a nourishing but plain meal, and so was astonished when Baxter presented her a dish of three plump hens, delicately roasted with a creamy sauce hinting at a French origin.

"I did not order this, Baxter. How did Cook come to prepare it?"

"Our cook did not, miss. It was delivered. With instructions for heating and serving. Cook thought it would do no harm to send it to table."

Philippa's siblings were looking at the dish with avaricious gazes. Even her father appeared stirred to hunger by the finely spiced scent of the offering.

"Very well, Baxter, assure Cook she did right. There can be no reason to discard it," she said, and served up the offering. "Great heavens, what a season of mysteries this is become."

It was only after the newly-recovered appetites had been assuaged, that the viscount commented on her statement. "This may be a season of mysteries, my dear; it certainly has not been our typical Christmas celebrations. I am sorry, child--I do know how much your rituals and customs mean to you."

"We had none of our usual Christmas traditions," Sukey said before Philippa could reply. She did not appear unduly distressed. "But at least it snowed."

Anselm was helping himself to more of the comforting boiled pudding at his elbow. "We may just as easily light the Yule log when we get home." He waved his spoon in the air. "I never did think we needed to keep such a careful schedule of events…"

Philippa listened to her siblings chat about what they would do when they were again at home in Kent. And she was surprised to realize she was as little concerned as her sister about the lack of tradition forming their holiday. "I think I was a good deal too involved with the events of the Season and not enough with the emotions of Christmastide," she reflected aloud. "This year, well, your recovery gives me all the joy that one should feel during these twelve days. Your health is a gift." 

"We never did exchange our gifts!" Ambrose exclaimed. His brother and sister joined in his wails. "Philippa, joy is all very well, but I did hope for a new chess set. Papa?"

The viscount wiped his fingers meticulously on his napkin, keeping his younger children on tenterhooks. At last he said, "Well, if Philippa thinks it well and good, we could find our gifts for each other now."

The youngsters pushed back their chairs and rushed for the door.

"Gently, my dears," Philippa called after them. "You are not fully recovered as yet."


The next day Philippa sat in the drawing room listening to the dripping of the eaves. The thaw had already begun. The family was variously occupied with the gifts they had received: Anselm practiced casts with his new fishing rod, Sukey sorted through a basket of satin ribands, and Ambrose and his father were bent over the chess board.

The viscount looked up suddenly. "The snow will be gone in a day. As soon as it freezes, we shall set out for Leaholm," he told them all. "The government can manage without me during January. We shall celebrate Twelfth Night at home, and recruit our strength. Perhaps Hillary may join us--we have missed him, have we not?"

His children agreed, if absently.

Philippa was content, or very nearly so. The thought that she had not heard from Markenfield nagged at her. The persistence of her desire for word from her former suitor bothered her. She looked around the chamber. All the family she needed was here in this room, but for Hillary, she told herself. She had rejected Everett for good reasons and should be satisfied with her choices.

"Come, everyone, let us play at spillikins," she said, hoping to avoid her thoughts.

They had progressed from spillikins to silver loo when a wooden box was brought in.

"For Miss Mosedale, my lord," the footman, who had only resumed his duties that morning, said. "Brought by courier, especial."

Philippa's siblings chaffed her with jests about secret admirers and persistent beaus. They recounted the recent gifts to each other, and their father, and came to a determination that there was a rejected, heartbroken swain endeavouring to regain her favour.

Markenfield's dark, appealing visage drifted through her mind as she listened to their chatter with half an ear while opening the box. As soon as she saw its contents however, she knew the gift could not be from him.

The box contained an exquisite automaton, formed of four small birds in a stylized tree. When the key in the mahogany base was wound, the birds sang, flirted their wings and turned their small heads. Everyone watched it, fascinated.

Philippa's delight in the charming toy was tinged with disappointment. There was no suitor or beau, and her family well knew it. There was only Markenfield and his interest in mechanics was restricted to useful machines, not such frivolous delights as this gift. Whoever her mysterious benefactor was, it was not Everett.


On the fifth day of Christmas, Philippa was planning their removal from London to Leaholm. They would be home for Twelfth Night as the viscount had promised and Hillary was to join them. Their celebrations for the advent of the New Year would be circumscribed by their journey, but the Wassail bowl could be prepared later and the games and revels of the season would be the sweeter for being delayed and being at home.

Phillipa moved through the day overseeing the packing, advising Baxter and the recovering footman on the closing of the house, and urging her siblings to order their possessions for their return home.

Baxter found her mid-afternoon in the morning room, staring at the automaton. "A visitor, miss. I have taken the liberty of installing him in the drawing room."

"Oh, Baxter, I've neither time nor energy for guests. Could you not have denied us? Where is my father?"

The butler appeared to quiver with some suppressed emotion. Philippa studied him closely.

"The caller asked for you only, miss, and desired I withhold his name."

"But you know him?"

"I do, miss. And if I may say so, I believe you should receive him."

This unlooked for advice from her servant astounded Philippa. Still, he had known her since childhood and she trusted him. "Very well." She twitched her green kerseymere skirts straight, blew a pale curl from her forehead with an unladylike puff and followed the butler from the room.

He ushered her into the drawing room with a flourish, and closed the door behind his departure with a snap.

Philippa paused inside the door, the breath leaving her lungs in a sudden surprised rush. Near the window stood Markenfield, his large, well-knit form displaying a certain tension, his appealingly craggy visage exhibiting a lack of confidence.

"Everett!" His Christian name escaped her before she could prevent it. "Lord Markenfield, I thought you in Surrey."

"Happy Christmas, Philippa. No, I elected to stay in London for the holiday, but I leave tomorrow." He was shifting his weight from one booted foot to another in a display of unaccustomed unease.

Philippa was gathering her self-possession even, it seemed, as Markenfield's seeped away. "How kind of you to call. We are ourselves departing for Kent on the morrow, if we can be ready."

"I know," he said and ran a strong hand through the dark waves of his fashionable crop. "Philippa…oh, damnit, I am no hand at this." He hesitated. "I brought you something…" He stepped aside revealing a swatch of ruby velvet spread on the mahogany table under the window. On it reposed two golden bracelets and an armlet of intricately and delicately twisted design.

Philippa caught her breath and crossed the room. Unconsciously she placed a hand on his strong left forearm. She stood silent staring at the three golden rings.
He hesitated a moment, then opened his right hand to reveal a wedding ring and a betrothal ring reposing in his broad palm. He tumbled them negligently to lie beside the other rings, and caught her hands in his.

"Philippa, will you reconsider your rejection of my offer? Please?"

Philippa was preoccupied by the five golden rings, remembering the four calling birds of the automaton, the three hens stewed in the French manner, the two doves in their gilt cage and the nuncheon of partridge and pears she had enjoyed on Christmas day. She began to laugh, very softly.

"Great heavens, Everett, how could I be so blind? The song, the tradition…oh, Everett!" She marveled that she could have imagined life without him. She lifted her gaze to his face, and her hand to touch his cheek wonderingly.

"How could I have been so prosaic and unimaginative?" he replied. "I am sorry, Philippa, but I find I cannot live without you. I will do anything--anything--to be worthy of you. I find you are right: one must look to the past to see the future. Traditions, like the old carol The 12 Days of Christmas can have a place in our modern age."

"And I have learned that all the traditions of the world matter not a snap when one's loved ones are ill or absent…"

He bent his head and kissed her. She responded with a shy wonder that soon dissolved to pure delight. When they were breathless, she rested against his shoulder, close wrapped in his arms.

"How did you manage this?" She waved a hand at the beautiful rings. He released her and  slipped the bracelets on her wrists, and the armlet further up, over the sleeve of her gown. His touch made her shiver; his gesture was intimate and loving and confident.

"With the connivance of your esteemed parent," he said. His tension had disappeared.

"Papa knew? Oh, he is a wily character; no wonder he is so successful a politician."

The baron drew her into his arms again. He said earnestly, "But the idea was all my own, Philippa. And indeed I have plans for the other seven days of the carol."

"Even the pipers and drummers, the lords a-leaping…?" she said, laughter twined with her words.

"All laid on. I am waiting only on a Twelfth Night ball at Marken Hall." He held the betrothal ring in his hand. "A betrothal ball?"

Philippa abandoned her plan of celebrating Twelfth Night at Leaholm and set her sites on Surrey instead. "Hillary?" she said.

"Hillary knows all my hopes and was so certain of my success that he is on his way to join us at the Hall. I was not so confidant, I admit it freely. Will you be my wife, Philippa?"

"I will," she said, all her love writ large in her expression. Her hopes for the future, her understanding of their love filled her gaze, as he slipped the fourth golden ring on her finger. The fifth, finely-chased, gold ring he slid into his waistcoat pocket to await their wedding day.

The End

Art by Rachel Arbuckle

Friday, December 6, 2013

Boyle's Court and Country Guide

If there was one book certain to be in the home of every social aspirant of the Regency era, it would have been Boyle's Court and Country Guide.

First published, I believe, in 1792, this little book--updated about every three months--was a guide to everyone in Regency society, where they lived and their occupation or rank. The listings were organized in the first half of the book by street name.
If you wanted to rent a house for the Season, you could ensure that the street you chose was occupied by illustrious neighbours.

The second half of the book was organized by names. If you met someone at a rout or ball, as soon as you returned home you could discover their address, the name and location of their country estate, and ensure that their acquaintance was worth cultivating.

These samples are from an 1821 issue of the guide. In the back of the book is a list of the 'best' hotels and coffee-houses (also clubs) of London. By 1824, this list had expanded to include boarding-houses.

In 1821, Eliza Boyle is listed as offering the services of the Court Guide; it may have been her husband who began the publication. Three years later it appears her son, G. H. Boyle, has taken over the operation. A unique service is advertised in the front of the book. It is a paid delivery service for visiting cards, invitations etc.

The 1857 issue of Boyle's followed the same basic pattern of earlier issues, but also it contained wonderful advertisements, and I'm wondering what year that began.

Boyle's Court Guide continued to be published for some 140 years until it was absorbed about 1934 by Webster's Royal Red book. Google Books has some 1821, 1824 and 1857 issues for free download, and Westminster City Archives have some issues, if you can access them. If you have access to the Getty Research Institute, they have many more issues. (I don't have that access, but I'd love to see some of the issues from the early 1800s.)

Much like a Regency socialite, I will have Boyle's Court Guide at hand, when next I am contemplating Regency society!

'Til next time,

Friday, November 15, 2013

Old Books and another Book Sale

Well, my local symphony society had another fund raiser--a book sale. And I am a big fan of book sales, as you know. This was a small sale, but I picked up several bargains--some fiction, a history of the Netherlands, and the second volume of Phillippe Aries History of Private Life: Revelations of the Medieval World. My Regency find however was a Dent Everyman's Library compilation of Nelson's Letters, published in 1960. It's a compact little volume but has 470 pages of letters.

I was disappointed that there weren't many old books in this sale. I love old books--the older the better. I like their smell, their yellowed pages, and their worn, crumbling spines. When I'm researching Regency England, I look for books that are pre-war, preferably pre-World War I. They have an innocence and charm about them that reaches back towards the years of that other war, the Napoleonic one. And the pictures--photos or drawings--often show scenes that have since disappeared.

"The King's England: Sussex" is one such book. Part of a large series by Arthur Mee (41 volumes in all) subtitled "A New Domesday Book of 10,000 Towns and Villages" it is a gold mine of illustrations and stories, pre-1937. I would love to find more in this series.

Another Dent book "The Old Country: A Book of Love & Praise of England" was written in 1917, specifically for those longing for 'home-thoughts'. My edition is from 1922. The selections are undoubtedly sentimental, but nonetheless charming, and the illustrations, mostly by A. R. Quinton and Herbert Railton, are in some cases stunning. Chester Cathedral by Railton is below.
 "The London of George VI" by E. O. Hoppe, a Dent book from 1937, has dozens of photos of a city now much changed. An evocative picture of the dismantling of the 1817 Waterloo Bridge resonates with this Regency researcher.

A favourite book of mine from 1941 is English Country Houses by V. Sackville-West. It is a very personal reflection on the great houses of England, many of which have disappeared in the intervening seventy-two years. The last sentence of this brief 47 page monograph is prophetic:
The system was, and is, a curious mixture of the feudal and the communal, and survives in England to-day. One wonders for how long?

This quote speaks of Regency England also. Did any of our favourite fictional Regency characters wonder how long their world would continue unchanged?

For photographs of the English countryside, I have old books like About Britain No. 10: The Lakes to Tyneside (1951), National Trust Guide: Places of Natural Beauty by D. M. Matheson (1950), and the Country Life Picture Book of the West Country (1952). The photographs in these books echo the beautiful paintings and drawings of Regency artists, and draw us closer to a world now vanished.

I live in the 21st century; I am an electronically published author, and I use an e-reader. The electronic resource Google Books is one of my favourite research tools. But my house is filled with books, and it is the old books, particularly, to which I turn again and again.

'Til next time,


Friday, November 1, 2013

The New London Family Cook

I am an indifferent cook--or a good, plain cook--depending upon who you talk to. I'm not greatly interested in food, and so I have no more than a passing interest in modern-day cookbooks. But period cookbooks? Now those I find interesting--fascinating in fact.

I've discovered a new one at Google Books.
The book was written by one Duncan McDonald (spelled variously) purported to be Head Cook at the Bedford Tavern and Hotel of Covent-Garden.

Mr. McDonald, it seems to me, knew what he was doing. The book truly is, as is claimed in the Conclusion, a Complete System of Domestic Economy. Every necessity for a household is discussed--from menus, recipes, table settings, butchering and carving, to sick rooms, servants' instructions and marketing.

Among the plethora of information I found several things particularly interesting and unique among the cookbooks of the era that I have seen in my own research. 'Bills of Fare' encompass dozens of pages and offer menu suggestions based on seasonal availabilities and number of guests. The supper offerings alone require nine pages.

The diagrams of desert [sic] tables are charming, and the contents of those offerings are very interesting.
Please click on the illustration below for a larger version that you can read more easily.
The most interesting, and unusual, items in the New London Family Cook are the articles about marketing and tradesmen. The book offers:
 And it supplies a critique of each market, with comments such as:
Shepherd's Market, towards the west end of Oxford Street, contains nothing out of the ordinary way.

St. James's Market, near St. James's Square, is well supplied with all sorts of provisions."
The New London Family Cook also offers:
In my last blog I discussed The Commercial Directory for some of the northern cities and towns of England. This London directory offers much the same sort of information, but has the benefit of suggesting retailers hand-picked by the author. This is the kind of personal recommendation any London householder would appreciate.
For example,
 Alchorne & Bingley, Oil and Colourmen, 18, Aldgate High-street
 Batley & Co., Drug-grinders, Sewall-street, Goswell-street
 Wm. Elliott, Chinaman, 27, St. Paul's Churchyard
 Grant & Hurley, Carpet and Upholstery Warehouse, 226, Piccadilly
 Rich. Jones, Perfumer and Toyman, 25 Ludgate-street
 James Maunder, Brandy Merchant, 9, Crutched-friars
 Edward Russell, Biscuit-baker, 453, Strand
There are four pages of these recommendations!

There is so much of interest in this book, I am going on too long, but I must mention a couple more things. The illustration below I have not seen in another cookery book of the period.
There is a short section detailing the cuts of meat indicated on the animals. Venison and turtle are, of course, not as widely used today as they were during the Regency. The New London Family Cook even suggests the best places in London for obtaining venison:
Angel's, the corner of Gracechurch Street, Cornhill
Birch's, Cornhill, and
Rich's, at the bottom of Ludgate Hill

Finally, there are two suggested menus for ball-suppers in this book. (I discussed ball-suppers in a July blog post). I have added a menu for forty people, from the New London Family Cook, to that post.

Mr. McDonald's book certainly has inspired me. Perhaps I should use it to improve my own cooking skills, and widen my culinary horizons.

'Til next time,


Friday, October 18, 2013

The Commerical Directory's Miscellaneous Tradesmen, etc.

The Commercial Directory of which the above is the title-page was chock-full of information. Anything needed to carry on business in the northern part of England was included. For every sizable town, there are lists of businesses, lists of carriers both land and water, bankers, and post offices.

The merchants, manufacturers and etc. for each place are categorized. Categories include ironmongers, linen drapers and surgeons. Inns and coopers, attornies [sic], and cabinetmakers are well-represented. There are at least three entries in every grouping. Also, there are multiple entries for crafts and jobs that scarcely exist any more: stone masons, and woolstaplers, and bell hangers. But for every town there is a 'miscellaneous' section. These are people working uniquely at a craft or occupation in their community.

For Birmingham, the 'miscellaneous' list is large, reflecting the fact that the entire list of Birmingham occupations takes up more than thirty-five pages in the directory. Here is a portion of the 'miscellaneous' category:

It was remarkable how many items were manufactured by small, independent workers. Things that now are turned out in the millions by huge factories were, during the Regency, produced by individuals often working in their own homes. For example, above Ralph Heaton, a button-shank-maker, and William Evans, key-maker.

from The Book of English Trades
There were specialist manufacturers: John Taylor, sword and bayonet scabbard-maker, and Moses Westwood, plated metal and brass ball-maker. And specialist merchants: S. and J. Waddington hop and seed merchants, and John Harris tallow & yarn merchant. And there are of course manufacturers and sellers of things that we no longer recognize e.g. Derbyshire spars, and patent shoe-latchets.

This Commercial Directory makes it clear that the Regency world was a bustling, mercenary place. Those with a trade or a craft were fortunate indeed, earning a living by providing a product to turn the wheels of commerce.

I will be revisiting the Commercial Directory in the future to share more of its fascinating information.

'Til next time,


N.B. Both The Book of English Trades and The Commercial Directory for 1818-19-20 are available from Google Books.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Scotland 1801, courtesy of Mr. Dibdin's 'Observations on a Tour...'

The picture above is of Gretna Green. It's not a scene we recognize or expect when we hear the name of that Scottish town.

The picture--an engraving of an original painting--comes from a book titled, "Observations on a Tour Through almost the Whole of England, and a Considerable Part of Scotland..." by Mr. Dibdin. The author, Mr. C. Dibdin, is likely Charles Dibdin, a musician, dramatist, novelist, and more, who lived 1745-1814. It could be that the book was written and illustrated by his son, Charles the Younger; their work is frequently confused. The vignettes that accompanied the work (examples below) were 'invented, drawn, and put on the copper' by Miss Dibdin. Both Charles the Elder and the Younger were possessed of daughters. I can find no information about her.
Vignette by Miss Dibdin titled 'Scotch Preaching'
The book is a fascinating one, showing a series of tranquil, almost soporific, scenes across the northern and eastern parts of England and the south of Scotland. I have chosen to illustrate the Scottish pictures as the engravings show the beauty of that powerful and memorable landscape in unfamiliar ways.
Loch Lomond from Belretiro [villa]

Approach to Edinburgh

Edinburgh from Kinghorn [across the Firth of Forth]

Loch Leven [west coast of Scotland]
The Lomonds [Trossach Mountains]
There are more wonderful pictures--the 'Carse of Gowry','Nearer to Dundee', 'Castle of Gloom', but we'll end with another of Miss Dibdin's vignettes, this one called simply 'Scotch Family'.

Another time I will post some of the pictures of England from the book; the vignettes you will see from time to time on my Facebook and my Tumblr. They are wonderful little scenes of Regency life. Mr. Dibdin's book, in two volumes, is available for download from Google Books. Enjoy!

'Til next time,


Friday, September 20, 2013

Poetry -- Everywhere, All the Time

The greatest poets of the modern age lived during the Regency era: Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Blake, Coleridge, etc. etc. And they lived in a era that believed in poetry, was absorbed by poetry, and encouraged everyone, it seems, to write poetry.

Virtually every magazine of the period had a poetry section. One would expect poetry from Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature etc., The Ladies' Monthly Museum and La Belle Assemblee. But The Gentleman's Magazine, as well as The Lady's Magazine, offered poetry. And more unexpectedly, The Annual Register, The European Magazine, and even The Theatrical Inquisitor printed poetry...a great deal of it.

Some offerings reflected the political world of the time, and some the trials of war:

From The Annual Register 1814

from Repository of Arts 1812
Many poems celebrated a fierce patriotism and a narrow view of nationalism we would not subscribe to today.
from The Lady's Magazine January 1804
There were sad love poems, and ubiquitous poems to roses:
from La Belle Assemblee January 1807

from The Ladies' Monthly Museum July 1816
The thing that all these poems have in common is that they are not very good. They rhyme, and they make liberal use of apostrophes and archaic word forms, but they are sentimental, emotive, and unoriginal.

One editor of The London Magazine (1820-1829 incarnation) was blunt with one writer:
And he was completely dismissive of several others:
Its dependence upon, and fascination with, poetry is an important feature to remember about the Regency era. Whether it was the death of a beagle
from The Gentleman's Magazine June 1803
the death of an actor
from The Theatrical Inquisitor 1821
or a move,
from The European Magazine January 1813
all was grist for the poetic mill. A hero or heroine who writes poetry is not unusual. It was simply something that educated people of the nineteenth century did. Whether they did it well or not, only history, and editors, decide.

'Til next time,


N.B. Due to writing deadlines and family commitments, I must limit my blogging from now on to two times a month. Watch for new posts on the first and third Fridays of each month! Thank you for joining me.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Female Instructor

There were dozens of them--dozens of books telling women (married and unmarried) how to behave, what to think, how to improve their minds, their household, their conversation. They bore titles such as "The Female Preceptor", "Mentoria", "Advice to Young Ladies", and "The Matrimonial Miscellany".

One of the longest-lived of such tomes was "The Female Instructor, or Young Woman's Companion". I believe it was first published in 1811.

In 1834, it was still being published then as "The New Female Instructor" subtitled "Young Woman's Guide to Domestic Happiness".

These books all revolved around a single premise, that a young woman's only goals were matrimony, and the happiness of the men in her life.

The frontispiece of the original 1811 volume shows the 'perfect woman', with her sewing, her symbols of music and her improving books, and her air of humble serenity.
The preface of the 1811 edition advises that "Domestic employments, particularly after marriage, will be found to be the source of unnumbered pleasures." And the chapter on matrimonial duty--which I personally find infuriating--comes with an illustration:

I cannot think that the cloying advice was the reason for the success and longevity of this volume. It must be the practical advice that caused it to be reprinted through the years. Indeed, the 'index' or table of contents cannot be read without a smile. Everything from 'frying in general' to 'Dr. Hawe's method of returning Drowned persons to life' plus 'How to clean Gold and Silver lace' and 'Sentiments of divine love' is covered. 'Parental duties considered' is listed next to 'Cleaning paper Hangings'. The 'necessity for Religious instruction' is next to 'to stop Retching'.

The most practical instructions are clear and concise. 'Management of poultry', 'puddings baked and boiled', 'how to roast game' are juxtaposed with useful illustrations:
I was interested to see the word 'dessert' used below, even if the spelling is, to our eyes, eccentric.
It bothers me to think of these paternalistic texts with their personality-destroying sentiments being read by generations of young women. I do hope that some women handed the books to their daughters with the words, "Never mind the advice, dear, the recipes are excellent".

'Til next time,


N.B. The Female Instructor is available for download from Google Books.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Situations Wanted

"To work is to live, without dying" -- well, Rilke's context for this phrase is very different, but there is an essential truth. To live we must work, and it has always been so.

The Regency era was no different from our own. There were thousands of people looking for work. There were myriad ways of finding the jobs available. There were register offices--pay a fee, be placed on their books, get a call if a position that fits comes up. There was word of mouth--someone knows someone who needs a seamstress, or a butler, or an apprentice. There were want ads--wanted, a cook; wanted, a clerk; wanted, a land agent.

And then there were advertisements placed by individuals looking for employment. They are among the most poignant items placed in newspapers and journals of the period. They tell stories, and hint at lives lived, private desperation, secret hopes. 

There were the highly skilled people looking for work, as this governess advertising in the Morning Chronicle of January 1815. The daily governess was a teacher who did not 'live-in' but arrived each day to teach her classes.
There were those looking to finish their education--their knowledge of their craft. From the same Morning Chronicle of 1815, an apprentice shoemaker looks to finish 'his time'.
And twenty years earlier, in the Daily Advertiser of 1796, a young man wishes to article in hair-dressing, and he is particular--his new master must have experience in both male and female hairdressing.

La Belle Assemblee in 1807 brought two advertisements, in imitation of each other. I wonder what these young women thought of their future as a drudge in a lady's household. Would they be fortunate enough to find a pleasant position, a kind mistress?

In the Hampshire Telegraph of August 1806, an ambitious young man is willing to start small. I wondered if he dreamed of a future as butler in one of the great homes of Britain.
And the Morning Chronicle of March 1810 has a list of people from the country  looking to better their position in life. I hope they found all they hoped for in the great city of London. 

Looking for work is never easy. These advertisements remind us that our stories are little different from their stories, though two hundred years separate these people from us.

'Til next time,